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Coerced abortion

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Here are some links for major articles related to coerced and pressured abortions.


How Common Are Coerced Abortions?

According to the 2008 report by American Psychological Task Force on Abortion and Mental Health, a major risk factor for women being at higher risk of negative psychological reactions to abortion are occasions in which there is "perceived pressure from others to terminate a pregnancy."[1] If a "coerced abortion" is understood in this context to mean one in which the woman feels pressured by others to have an abortion, the best range of estimates is that between 30 and 65 percent of abortions involve feelings of being pressured to have an abortion.

The lowest reported estimate comes from a report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute. The study was tellingly cited in an article by pro-choice ethicist Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center in a paper in which he worried about the pro-choice movement's failure to address the problem of coerced abortions:

If legal abortion has given women more choice, it has also given men more choice as well. They now have a potent new weapon in the old business of manipulating and abandoning women.... That men have long coerced women into abortion when it suits their purposes is well-known but rarely mentioned. Data reported by the Alan Gutmacher Institute indicate that some 30 percent of women have an abortion because someone else, not the woman, wants it (see: Rachel Benson gold, Abortion and Women's Health, The Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1990, p20.) The same data indicate that this is not necessarily the exclusive reason, but it is remarkably difficult to find much prochoice probing into the reality of coerced abortions. It is as if there is an embarrassed, sheepish silence on what would seem a matter of obvious concern for those committed to choice." [2]

The study cited by Callahan was based on interviews conducted at an abortion clinic in which the interviewer herself rated the primary reasons why women were choosing to have an abortion. It may therefore have been influenced by the interviewers own bias, skill in interviewing, or the reluctance of women to report coercion in the presence of parents or partners who were pressuring for the abortion.

A retrospective study of women seeking health care inquiring about their history of pregnancy loss found that of among American women who reported having had an induced abortion, 64 percent "felt pressured by others" to have the abortion.[3] The same study found that those women who reported feeling pressured to have an abortion also reported higher rates of negative psychological reactions which they attributed to their abortions.

In another study of 252 women who were seeking peer group support to cope with their past abortions, fifty-five percent of the women stated that they felt “forced” by others to choose the abortion, sixty-one percent said they felt as though others were in control of their lives, and forty-four percent were still hoping that the abortion counselor would present another alternative on the day they went to the abortion clinic.[4] While this sample was limited to women seeking counseling for negative post-abortion reactions and therefore may not be representative of all women seeking abortions, it shows a high rate of not only feeling pressured, but even "forced" to choose abortion among those women who end up the most dissatisfied with their abortion "choice."

The problem of women feeling pressured into unwanted abortions is even more acute in light of research into the risk of defective decision making in crisis situations.

Experts on crisis counseling have found that those who are in a state of crisis are increasingly vulnerable to outside influences and have less trust in their own opinions and abilities to make the right decision. Such “heightened psychological accessibility”[5]can lead to a situation where parents, counselors, or others in authority can have enormous influence over a woman’s decision. “A relatively minor force, acting for a relatively short time, can switch the whole balance from one side or to the other—to the side of mental health or to the side of ill health.”[6] Persons in crisis “are less in touch with reality . . . and more vulnerable to change than they are in non-crisis periods.”[7] They often experience feelings of tiredness, lethargy, hopelessness, inadequacy, confusion, anxiety, and disorganization. Thus, they are more likely to stand back and let other people make their decisions for them, instead of protecting themselves from decisions that may not be in their best interests.

A person who is upset and trapped in a crisis wants to reestablish stability, and is therefore very susceptible to any influence from others who claim to be able to solve the crisis, especially those who have status or authority.[8] Thus, with a minimal effort on the part of a mental health professional, family member, minister, or male partner, an enormous amount of leverage may be exerted upon a woman who is in a crisis situation.[9] This can be a dangerous situation for a woman who doesn’t really want an abortion but has others around her who push for it.

An understanding of this basic crisis theory helps to explain why pregnant women, especially if they are unwed, adolescent, or poor, are so vulnerable to undergoing abortions in violation of their own will and consciences. Women who would normally be very much in control of their own lives may suddenly feel dependant on the guidance of others when faced with a crisis pregnancy. In such cases, even minimal efforts by family members, their male partners, or medical authorities to encourage abortion may be experienced as the decisive factor.

What women experience as “pressure” to abort may involve indirect but significant pressure such as withholding love, approval and personal or practical support from the woman unless she agrees to an abortion. Or it may be overt, as in abuse or an outright threat to abandon or expel the woman from her home if she does not abort her child. In many cases, the pressure is applied intentionally by others. In other cases, the “pressure” is not intended, but simply perceived by the woman. For instance, if her boyfriend exhibits an unenthusiastic response to the news that she is pregnant, she may see this as his way of telling her that he will not help to support her or their child.

Since any element of coercion is not only a risk factor for psychological problems after abortion, but also a fundamental violation of the dignity and rights of women, abortion providers should carefully screen for any signs of coercion toward an unwanted abortion. Whenever this is observed, the pressuring parties should be counseled as to why the abortion is contraindicated. It should be explained that the fact that the abortion goes against the woman’s maternal or moral beliefs exposes her to a much greater risk of subsequent emotional problems, and that pressuring her into the abortion is only likely to worsen the relationships between the woman and those pressuring her. If the pressuring parties exert considerable control over the woman, any subsequent claim by the woman that the request for the abortion is “her decision” should not be accepted at face value, but should invite additional counseling to ensure that the decision is truly in conformity with her own beliefs and desires—-excluding the desire to please others at her own expense.


Additional Resources

Who’s Making the Choice? Women's Heightened Vulnerability During a Crisis Pregnancy How and why women are manipulated into unwanted abortions.


A Generation at Risk: How Teens Are Manipulated Into Abortion At look at how and why teens are especially vulnerable to coercion.

The Many Faces of Coercion Startling examples of coerced abortion around the world.

Unwanted, coerced or forced abortions in America

Forced Abortion in America Report

Women Who Abort: Their Reflections on the Unborn

References

  1. American Psychological Association, Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. (2008). Report of the Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. Washington, DC: Author. page 11.
  2. Daniel Callahan, “An Ethical Challenge to Prochoice Advocates,” Commonweal, Nov. 23, 1990, 681-687, 684.
  3. Rue VM, Coleman PK, Rue JJ, Reardon DC. Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women. Med Sci Monit, 2004 10(10): SR5-16.
  4. Reardon DC. Aborted Women: Silent No More. Chicago, Ill: Loyola University Press; 1987. (Survey Link)
  5. Howard W. Stone, Crisis Counseling. 20 (1976).
  6. Gerald Caplan, Principles of preventive psychiatry. Basic Books(1964), 293.
  7. Stone at 20
  8. Wilbur E. Morely, Theory of Crisis Intervention, 21 PASTORAL PSYCHOLOGY 16-17 (1970).
  9. Caplan, at 50-54.
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